Fifth Time’s a Disaster

Breaking BadMost of my friends are women, and that means that I have very few friends who are fans of Breaking Bad. In fact, most of them make derisive comments about the show. So basically, I get to talk about the show with Will (who I disagree with much of the time) and read Matthew Yglesias (who I agree with most of the time). But I think I am diverging from most hardcore fans of the show: season 5 was probably a major mistake.

Let’s start with the fact that the ending of season 4 was perfect. The story had ended, we didn’t need any more: “I won.” Fade out. That’s a rap. Greatest television show ever. Kermit the Frog yells, “Yeeeea!”

Even though season 5 started right where season 4 ended, it seemed like we were starting all over again. But there were important and unhelpful changes. Skyler, instead of continuing on her arc was suddenly afraid of Walt. As the season has progressed, she is mostly there to have this very boring fight about whether the children should continue to live with them. I don’t buy any of it. If she cared about her children and feared Walt that much, she would have secretly ratted out Walt and gone into witness protection.

The bigger problem is the change of Walter from protagonist to antagonist. Over the course of the first four seasons, Walt had become much more morally ambiguous. But he wasn’t evil and he wasn’t megalomaniacal. In the most recent episode, he’s gone from evil to just plain stupid. He justifies not selling out the business because he’s lost his wife and children; the business is all he has left. Can he really be blind to the fact that he has lost his family because he is in the meth business?

This week we get a little more information on Gray Matter—the company Walt help start. Unfortunately, the information conflicts with the other information we’ve been given. The implication earlier was that the others at Gray Matter had screwed Walt, not that there was a lover’s triangle (implied in the recent episode) and he went of his own free will. But this brings up an important question. Walt is passing up five million dollars in order to be the meth king. But with five million dollars, Walt could start a reputable chemistry company. If he really wants to get back at the Gray Matter people, wouldn’t that be the way to go? If he really wants to be respected, isn’t that the way to go? Hasn’t it been clear for at least two seasons that it drives Walt crazy that he can’t go up to Hank and tell him that he’s been punking him?

Another problem is that in six episodes, Breaking Bad has featured two heists. This indicates a certain desperation on the part of the writers. I justified the first one as a necessary set up for the rest of the season. But in episode five we have another heist that is largely resolved in episode six. We are likely halfway through the current season. This no longer seems like set up.

Where is this show going? Chaos is not the same thing as dramatic momentum. I fear that Vince Gilligan may have forgotten this. Regardless, I am not hopeful about the rest of this season.

Afterword

My biggest argument with Will is over the character of Jesse. I think he is by far the most sympathetic of the major characters. At first, he was just a punk. But as time has gone on, he’s matured. For a man of his age, this makes sense. It certainly makes more sense than Walter’s devolution. Breaking Bad is filled with narcissistic characters. Jesse cares about other people and that’s a major step up from even Saul—the second more sympathetic character.

Update (20 August 2012 1:29 pm)

In the episode “Gray Matter,” it is clear that there was some kind of a lover’s triangle. In the episode “Peekaboo” it is expanded on where it is clear that at least Walt thinks he was screwed. The video is on this Facebook page. It ends badly:

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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